This is the 75th anniversary of the attack of Canadian forces on the Hitler Line southeast of Rome. Sylvia Crooks, author of “Homefront and Battlefront: Nelson, BC in World War 2”, wrote that May 23, 1944 was “Nelson’s Black Day of World War 2”, as two Nelson boys were killed and two others went missing in action, including my dad Leigh.

Ray Hall and Jack Wilson died, and Leigh McBride and Joe Dyck were seriously injured and taken prisoner. The news was a huge hit on the remote community of 7,000 in southeastern British Columbia.

IMG_6032The Dyck family did not learn that Joe was alive and a POW until July 1944, and my McBride grandparents did not find out Leigh was alive and a POW until September 1944.

Leigh was the only survivor of a forward unit, and had suffered shrapnel wounds to his legs, arms and face, causing the loss of his left eye.

He was discovered unconscious by German soldiers and taken to a hospital in Rome. Leigh came back to Canada in a prisoner exchange in February 1945, and Joe came back in July 1945. In 1968 Leigh wrote of the fateful day he was captured in notes for Professor Roy who wrote the Seaforth regimental history. Mark Zuehlke later referenced his comments in his Liri Valley book.

In her 2017 memoirs “Children of the Kootenays”, Shirley Hall Stainton described how the telegraph messenger boy came to their home on Latimer Street in Nelson with the tragic news of her brother’s death, and she watched him go on to the Wilson house just two houses away with similar news. She thought he may have just come down from the McBride house on Hoover Street a couple of blocks away with the telegram that Leigh was missing. The Dyck house was a few blocks up the hill on Delbruck.

All four of them were with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada regiment. Leigh was 26, and the others about 5 years younger. The announcements were in the Nelson Daily News of June 2nd and 3rd of 1944.

One of Ray Hall`s last letters mentioned that he was serving under Captain Leigh McBride from Nelson.  That would have been after Leigh was promoted to Captain in March 1944.  At the time of the attack on the Hitler Line on May 23, 1944 Leigh was in command of D Company (aka Dog Company) but it is not clear in the records I have seen if Ray Hall was still in that company or had moved.

Leigh`s parents (my paternal grandparents) R.L. and Winnie McBride were thrilled to hear by telegram on Sept. 20, 1944 that Leigh was alive and recovering from wounds at a prisoner of war camp in Germany.   Tragically, after two days of celebrating and receiving congratulatory calls and letters from friends, they received a subsequent  telegram on Sept. 22, 1944 advising that their other son, Capt. Kenneth Gilbert McBride, had been killed in action near Rimini, Italy on Sept. 16, 1944.

 

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Ray was the only brother of Shirley Hall Stainton, who described their experiences growing up in the Slocan Valley when their father was a cook at mining camps, in her book “Children of the Kootenays“

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One of four clippings in the Nelson Daily News of either June 2, 1944 or June 3, 1944, as it took about a week for war news to get back to Nelson from Italy.

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Leigh was able to contact Bud Dyck while they were in different POW camps in Germany­.  When I was living in Edmonton in 2005 I saw his name mentioned in a Royal Canadian Legion story in an Edmonton newspaper, and contacted him through the Legion.  He told me he had served in a unit commanded by my uncle Ken McBride, who regularly gave him the “honour`of being picked for dangerous night raids.